Marketing tools like advertising, sales literature, and direct mail are
widely employed by all types of business across all industries. But Public
Relations remains an underutilized and misunderstood part of the plan. Why?
There's no single answer to why companies are more comfortable with standard
marketing tools . . . but, there are a number of basic misconceptions surrounding
PR that contribute to its lack, or misuse. To start, there is often confusion
surrounding the definition of what PR is.
PR is commonly understood to mean Public Relations. The "Public" refers
to the company's specific market. This includes customers, potential customers,
investors, potential investors, industry analysts, the press, and any outside
group that can influence the company's position in the marketplace.
Large companies like Pepsi or Nike have a very large public or market .
. . basically anyone who's thirsty or that wears shoes. These companies can
directly affect their public's perception through philanthropic events and
sponsorship. This kind of Public Relations requires very deep pockets.
For companies with more targeted markets, PR impact is more commonly achieved
via the various communications outlets, often lumped together as "the media."
So, depending on how you reach your public, you might be using Media Relations,
Public Relations, or a combination of both. As a result, "PR" can interchangeably
refer to both Media and Public Relations.
Other misconceptions regarding Public Relations do a lot to keep PR agencies
in business. You really don't need an agency to successfully use PR as part
of your overall marketing program. For medium-sized and smaller companies,
it's better to solidly establish your PR program in-house before considering
an agency. In fact, many large companies manage their PR strategy in-house
and often use the agency staff to implement the PR program details.
Before you decide which strategy best fits your company, read on to see
what other PR misconceptions might be keeping this cost-effective tool from
playing a larger role in your marketing plan.
Common Misconceptions Surrounding PR
- You can only get great PR coverage if you already have the right press
contacts. This is why a lot of companies hire an agency. They think
agencies come with all the best press contacts and if the press knows and
likes your agency, they'll want to know you too.
If it were actually that simple, there would be a lot fewer PR agencies.
Sure, good agencies have positive relationships with the press that can
be leveraged into great coverage, but building these relationships is not
an exclusive club. Truth be told, the press or industry analysts like hearing
the news from the horse's mouth. But it has to be news, and it must be presented
- The press and industry influencers are gods . . . and your company
is unworthy of their absolute all-knowingness. Or conversely, the press
and industry influencers are dogs . . . and unable to grasp the magnificence
of your company and its product or services. Either of these misconceptions
spells death when dealing with the press. The truth is, the press and industry
influencers are busy business people . . . just like you.
Their jobs are knowledge-intensive (like yours), and they really appreciate
it when they learn about something of value that helps them in their business.
Any business person can appreciate this point of view.
So, find out which publications are most appropriate for your company to
approach. What is the targeted audience of the publication? Are their readers'
interests a match with your market? Get to know the various editors' interests
and what topics they cover. This means someone in your company must invest
time actually researching and reading the publications you'd like to see
your company appear in. But it's an investment that will pay off with a
welcome (even appreciative!) response by editors.
- Everything new is news and should be brought to all the press' attention.
Just as no news about your company is bad news . . . too many "who cares?"
type of announcements full of self-congratulatory quotes turn editors off.
Neither your agency or in-house PR person will be taken seriously if you
expect them to issue a four-page release about your move to a new address.
You don't bother the business editor unless your company is the largest
employer in the region. Learn to distinguish what information is really
news, and what is FYI reference material.
- PR is a science - so only the professionals can do it right! Yes, PR is a science . . . and that means the fundamentals can be learned.
The basic steps for dealing with the press and industry influencers can
(and should) be taught to all your senior staff. Your marketing staff can
(and should) be trained in the tactics and procedures of public relations.
Obviously, the best coaches are people who have worked in an agency or who
have had first-hand experience and demonstrated results managing a company's
marketing and press communications. If you have an agency, use them to educate
your people. If you already have a PR person on staff, ditto. If you have
neither, consider bringing in a specialist to beef up your PR program and
eventually train your staff to take over.
- PR is separate from other marketing tactics or programs. Well,
this is partially true. While the overall message used within your PR strategy
should match those of your general marketing strategy, the information needs
to be written without hype and as objectively as possible.
PR is NOT unpaid advertising. Part of the reason PR is often kept separate
from other marketing areas is that editors do not appreciate being viewed
as part of any company's marketing program. Agencies often pitch themselves
to potential clients as the more objective, unbiased way to approach the
press, but think about that. It's pretty obvious who's paying the agency.
- PR is an administrative task. After all, what does it take to
write a press release and develop a press list? Think again! The spokesperson
who represents your company holds a massive responsibility, whether they
are responding to a press inquiry or composing a release explaining why
the company's fourth quarter sales did not meet expectations.
The person managing your PR effort must have a keen insight to current and
future company goals. Deciding what company news is truly newsworthy, or
fielding tough questions from analysts, are not tasks for a junior-level
person. Nor should these situations be handled by someone on an "as needed"
Developing clear, concise and consistent positioning for both your product
and company requires participation, cooperation, and commitment across all
While (as we suggest in #4) the fundamentals of PR can, and should, be taught,
how well those tactics are implemented depends on the person you entrust
with the job. Anyone associated with your company's PR program should be
quick-witted, detail-oriented, and readily available to take press calls.
- If I hire an agency I don't have to worry about PR. Companies
often buy into an agency based on the strategies put forth by the agency
principals at the pitch meeting. They think, "Geez' these guys are good!
We'd be lucky to have them working for us." But once the program is underway,
you hear from those principals less and less and find yourself dealing more
and more with the tactics people.
At a good agency, the junior people are probably better than most, but you
still need a senior-level strategist to assess all the messages going out
(collateral, releases, advertising) as well as the feedback to those messages
(articles, press, industry and public opinion.) This is essential to determine
if the company and product messages are being received loud and clear.
It becomes critical to manage any agency you hire as you would manage your
in-house PR staff. And don't shy away from assigning performance metrics
to the agency as you would your in-house staff. You need to remember that
an agency builds upon the message you tell them to build upon. The key is
to have that message set before you even approach any agency.
Public Relations is one of the most economical marketing tools your company
can use. Invest in improving your company's PR, and over time you'll be repaid
with an upswing in name recognition and increased positive perception of your
company and products.